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Meet the lesbian who heckled Michelle Obama

Sturtz disrupts fundraiser, seeks ‘full federal equality’

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Ellen Sturtz, GetEqual, gay news, Washington Blade
Ellen Sturtz, GetEqual, gay news, Washington Blade

Ellen Sturtz heckled Michelle Obama at a DNC fundraiser. (Washington Blade file photo from a previous protest by Michael Key)

A lesbian activist had a testy exchange with first lady Michelle Obama at a fundraiser on Tuesday evening over a much sought-after LGBT non-discrimination executive order, leading to the ejection of the activist from the event.

Ellen Sturtz, a 56-year-old D.C.-based activist affiliated with the grassroots LGBT group GetEQUAL, had the exchange with the first lady — which involved not just the executive order, but the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — at a Democratic National Committee fundraising event in D.C.

“I think she was upset by the interruption, no doubt,” Sturtz said. “But I really didn’t feel like there was a lot of anger or felt like I was in danger at all. Even though she was pretty — I would like to say assertive — but obviously it was pretty aggressive.”

According to Sturtz, the exchange began when Michelle Obama began talking about children without delving too much into LGBT issues beforehand. Sturtz said she shouted out to the first lady something about the importance of LGBT children, and Michelle Obama wasn’t happy.

“She cut me off immediately and leaned over podium, sort of her put her big hand towards me and said something to the effect of ‘You don’t do that to me’ or ‘I don’t do that,'” Sturtz said. “Then I made a comment that I’m interested in making sure that we have employment protections, and I’m not going to be quiet any longer.”

Sturtz said things became even more testy as Michelle Obama left the podium to talk to the activist face to face.

“She came down from the podium and got into my face — probably within three inches of my face,” Sturtz said. “She basically took the microphone down, and she said to me, ‘I don’t do this, and if you want the microphone, it’s either I have the microphone or you have the microphone. I said, ‘I’ll take the microphone.’ And she said, ‘If you take the microphone, then I’m leaving.'”

At that point, the crowd called for the first lady to stay and expressed its disapproval of Sturtz as she was kicked out, but not before she concluded that she wants President Obama to sign the non-discimination executive order for federal contractors.

“When I left, I made some comments as they were kicking me out about a being an old abrasive lesbian just looking for full federal equality,” Sturtz said. “And I think I may have said something like, ‘Is there anything wrong with that?’ as I’m sort of escorted out.'”

Sturtz’s account is consistent with what The Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel reported happened during the event in her pool report for the fundraiser:

“One of the things I don’t do well is this,” replied FLOTUS to loud applause. She left the lectern and moved over to the protester, saying they could “listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”

Crowd started shouting that they wanted FLOTUS to stay.

“You need to go!” said one woman near the protester.

The protester was then escorted out, shouting “…lesbian looking for federal equality before I die.” (First part of the quote was inaudible.) Pool could not get their name before they were taken out.

The crowd was generally favorable to the first lady. According to a transcript of the first lady’s remarks, Michelle Obama was greeted by someone shouting, ‘We love you!’ at the start of the event and concluded her remarks with applause.

Sturtz, who’s also affiliated with the anti-war group Code Pink, said she’s seeking “full federal equality” and moved to D.C. in December to help make the case after having lived in California since 1986.

“I know it’s probably unrealistic and whatever people think — whether you can get ENDA passed this year or next year, or we have until 2015 — I don’t want to wait anymore,” Sturtz said. “I have the been the nice lesbian; I’m not nice anymore. I’m nice, but I don’t want to be quiet any longer. I don’t want to listen to the non-profit organizations telling me what the timeframe is — how many decades I’m going to have to wait for full federal equality.”

Sturtz paid the ticket price of $500 to attend the event held in Northwest D.C. at the home of lesbian couple Karen Dixon and Nan Schaffer — with the intent of talking with someone at the DNC about the executive order. Sturtz said she donated to the Democratic Party in the previous election cycle.

“They cashed my check … they were asking for more money today,” Sturtz said. “We’re just asking them to do something that’s really simple, and I don’t think we’re really getting many answers about why they’re not willing to do it.”

The DNC and the White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the exchange. The Office of the First Lady didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday evening.

Just hours before the fundraiser, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was questioned about the executive order, but reiterated the line that the administrative prefers a legislative path to addressing LGBT workplace discrimination.

“The president believes that the right approach to this problem is an inclusive piece of legislation, and that’s the approach that we’re taking,” Carney said. “It was the approach that we took with repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and we continue to support this effort.”

Prior to her ejection, Sturtz said she had a conversation with Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz about ENDA and the executive order. According to Sturtz, the Florida congresswoman expressed interest in the directive and was surprised by estimates it would cover 22 percent of the workforce.

“Obviously, she was very supportive, and obviously, like everyone, there’s a lot of frustration about what’s happening in the House,” Sturtz said. “But she understood the strategy of getting the executive order to help fuel the effort of getting it passed in the House.”

Two other GetEQUAL members, college students, were also present at the event along with activist Autumn Leaf, of Columbus, Ohio, who told the Blade she interrupted Wasserman Schultz’s remarks delivered at the same fundraiser.

“I felt very frustrated with the rosy picture of what was done for the LGBT community, especially when the executive order is something that literally requires the effort signing a piece of paper,” Leaf said. “I called her out, ‘What about the executive order that President Obama promised back in 2008 as a candidate, and she looked over and just glared.”

Leaf said Wasserman Schultz told the audience ENDA would be passed, but only with Democratic control of the U.S. House and urged those in attendance to max out their donations.

According to Leaf — who said she wasn’t ejected from the event, but was watched closely by a Secret Service agent — no arrests were made at the fundraiser as a result of the interruptions.

Sturtz emphasized that her action wasn’t about herself, but ENDA, the executive order and equality.

Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL, said more protests similar to what happened at the fundraiser will continue if the executive order is withheld.

“We’ll keep speaking up and speaking out until we’re equal — and we hope the president and the first lady have a long conversation tonight,” Cronk said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of article incorrectly identified the day on which the event took place and activist Autumn Leaf as someone else. The Blade regrets the error.

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Kamala Harris hosts Pride month reception

Upwards of 200 people attended Naval Observatory event

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Vice President Kamala Harris hosted about 200 guests for Pride Month celebration at her official residence on June 28, 2022. She spoke at the Capital Pride festival in D.C. earlier in the month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Vice President Kamala Harris helped bring Pride Month to a close Tuesday at her residence with a celebration for high-profile members of the LGBTQ community, recognizing successes achieved but also urging continued movement.

“When we celebrate Pride, it’s because we understand not only the strength of what we have accomplished, and the fight for equality, but we [also] understand the fragility of these gains, and so we know what we must do to be vigilant and maintain [those rights],” Harris said.

The Advocate reported in coverage of the event the Pride celebration was the first ever to take place at the vice president’s residence, but that’s incorrect.

President Biden as vice president hosted a Pride event with LGBTQ leaders in 2014. Harris also said during the event her understanding was it was a first for a sitting vice president.

An estimated 200 attendees were present for the event at the Naval Observatory in D.C., which serves as the vice president’s official residence. Guests at the party mingled by the pool and partook of drinks served on a spinning wheel placed just outside.

High-profile officials from the Biden administration who were present included Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Neither delivered remarks. Also at the event was “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Shangela, who addressed the crowd.

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, who were among in plaintiffs in the litigation against California’s Proposition 8, were also present at the event. Harris married the couple in 2013 as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling restoring marriage equality to the state.

Perry and Stier spoke before the crowd and urged them to continue to stand strong in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

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White House: ‘We have made clear’ Brittney Griner is being ‘unjustly detained’

Biden officials spoke to athlete’s wife ‘in the last few days’

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White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. (Screen capture via C-SPAN)

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday he has spoken in the last few days with the wife of Brittney Griner as part of a larger effort within the Biden administration to secure the release of the lesbian basketball player in Russia whom supporters say is being unlawfully detained.

Sullivan made the comments speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One during President Biden’s trip to Europe in response to a question about efforts within the Biden administration to bring Griner home ahead of her expected trial in Russia.

“So first, Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained, unjustly detained, and we have made that clear as an official determination of the U.S. government,” Sullivan said. “Second, the Russian government should release her and allow her to be returned and reunited with her family and come home safe and sound.”

Sullivan added he — as well as Secretary of State Antony Blinken — have spoken with Griner’s wife Cherelle, to “convey our very deep sympathy, to convey that, you know, we just can’t even begin to imagine what the family must be going through, what Brittney — what Brittney must be going through.”

Griner, a professional basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury within the Women’s National Basketball Association, was detained in February by Russian Customs on allegations that cartridges of hashish oil were found in her luggage. Griner had gone to Russia to play with the Russian Premier League during the WNBA off-season.

Sullivan said the U.S. government “is actively engaged in trying to resolve this case and get Brittney home,” but added he’s constrained in what he could say because of confidentiality about the sensitive issue.

“But I will tell you it has the fullest attention of the president and every senior member of his national security and diplomatic team,” Sullivan said. “And we are actively working to find a resolution to this case, and will continue to do so without rest until we get Brittney safely home.”

The Biden administration, Sullivan added, is additionally working to return all unjustly detained Americans and hostages being held overseas,” including detainees in Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, Venezuela, and China.

The Washington Blade has placed a request with the State Department for a readout on Blinken’s role in the Biden administration’s talks with Griner.

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Pelosi hints at legislation to codify same-sex marriage rights

House Dems lay out plans following end to Roe

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impeachment, gay news, Washington Blade
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted a legislation to codify same-sex marriage after the end to Roe v. Wade.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted at the possibility of legislation to codify the right of same-sex couples to marry, which many fear is in danger after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, as part of an effort to secure “freedoms which Americans currently enjoy.”

Pelosi suggested such legislation could be in the works in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Monday to fellow members of the House Democratic caucus addressing plans for congressional action after the ruling last week in Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization, which eliminated the right for women to access an abortion.

The concurrence of U.S. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas is a core component of the letter from Pelosi, who expressed consternation about his rejection of finding unenumerated rights under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“It is still appalling to me that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would agree that a Constitutional right does not exist if it was not spelled out explicitly and in public when the 14th Amendment was ratified over 150 years ago,” Pelosi said. “While this extremist Supreme Court works to punish and control the American people, Democrats must continue our fight to expand freedom in America. Doing so is foundational to our oath of office and our fidelity to the Constitution.”

Thomas said in his concurring opinion he welcomes vehicles that would allow the court to revisit other major decisions, such as the Griswold decision guaranteeing the right to contraceptives; the Lawrence decision decriminalizing sodomy for same-sex couples and others; and the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

Although Pelosi doesn’t explicitly say she’ll introduce legislation on same-sex marriage, she brought up “access to contraception and in-vitro fertilization to marriage equality,” then added, “Legislation is being introduced to further codify freedoms which Americans currently enjoy. More information to follow.”

“It is clear from how Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell stacked the Supreme Court that elections have ramifications,” Pelosi said. “It is essential that we protect and expand our pro-choice Majorities in the House and Senate in November so that we can eliminate the filibuster so that we can restore women’s fundamental rights – and freedom for every American.”

Any legislation seeking to codify marriage equality would have to get around marriage being an issue administered by the states under the guidelines of the U.S. Constitution. In the past, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which would have required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage and states to recognize same-sex marriage performed elsewhere.

Pelosi’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the possibility of marriage legislation or the timeline for U.S. House approval of such a measure. Nadler’s office also didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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